To use the N-word or not was the question that seemed to have created a generational divide at the Cleo Fields Lecture series black history program Tuesday in Grambling Hall Auditorium.
The community forum, sponsored by the Department of Mass Communication, sparked a lively discussion that explored use of the “N-Word” in higher education and society.
On one side were those such as panelist Terrence Lewis who had no problem with use of the word: “I can identify with nigga,” said Lewis, president of the History Club. “Everybody in here can feel nigga. I can feel nigga.”
On the other side of the argument were comments like this from panelist Dr. Kevin Washington, Sociology and Psychology Department head: “It doesn’t matter what they say you are, the issue is that in my DNA, a nigga does not exist.”
The program opened with a presentation by Moses T. Alexander Greene II, director of the African American Cultural Center at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Greene presented an overview on the topic with a short video and PowerPoint lecture, which was followed by a panel discussion led by Charley Gay.
Other panelists included President Rick Gallot; Dr. Rose Harris, political science professor; and Diana Shaffer, a mass communication student recruited by Dr. Morganfield from the audience.
In opening remarks, Dr. Robbie Morganfield, who organized the program, noted the increasing debate nationwide about if, when, and how the word should be used on college campuses, or even at all. Morganfield is the Cleo Fields Endowed Professor in Mass Communication and department head.
The program was an effort to get a conversation started about the topic in light of the widespread use of the word by students and others, Morganfield said.
He said a controversy has long been simmering among African Americans about whether black people should be using the word to refer to other black people.
“This word and the meaning to describe it is based in white supremacy,” Green said. “We were not calling ourselves nigga with the meaning that comes along with it, the psychological imprint that comes along with this.”
Greene said the word came about during slavery and is among one of the residual effects of the “trauma” of slavery. He compared many black peoples’ reactions to the word to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition that occurs after someone has been through a traumatic event.
Washington cited a study of mice that showed that the effects of trauma can be inherited and that subsequent generations may not feel the actual trauma, but are still impacted by it through such societal forces as Jim Crow segregation laws, stereotypes and the use of blackface.
To cap his argument against use of the word, Washington said: “If kings build kingdoms, niggers can only build niggerdoms.”
“Being at an institution of higher education, we should be better each day than we were the day before,” said Gallot. “I don’t use the word and I have (checked) my ancestry in 23andMe and genetically I can use the word.”
Using the N-word is “not going to increase your value,” Gallot said.
While recognizing the origin and derogatory nature of the word, there were many students who defended the use of the word by blacks only as one of endearment to each other. They also agreed that it was not a phrase that whites could use.
Students Jada Stokes, Se’Dashia Thornton and Chayel Flowers contributed to this report.